Saying the high stakes online poker scene went through a few changes in 2011 is like saying Isildur1 has gone on a few downswings.
The entire online poker industry was shook to its very core by the events of Black Friday when PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker were shut out of the U.S. market.
The nosebleed games were immediately changed as U.S. players like Dan “jungleman12” Cates, Tom “durrrr” Dwan and Phil Ivey found themselves locked out of the huge games.
Within a matter of months Full Tilt Poker was closed completely and even European grinders had to migrate to PokerStars.
Some U.S. players, such as Brian Hastings and Phil Galfond relocated to Canada so they could play on PokerStars while others switched to live play.
Black Friday also had the side effect of essentially turning the high stakes online year into two separate campaigns.
The first one saw Gus Hansen on track for his best year with nearly $4 million in winnings on Full Tilt Poker while the second focused on Ilari Sahamies’ amazing comeback and eventual dominance on PokerStars.
Either way it was an interesting year for high stakes and there are some compelling stories in the biggest winners and losers of the year. Continue reading for a look at the top five winners and losers of the year. For more information check our online poker stats section.
Top 5 Biggest Online Winners
1. Gus Hansen: +$3.94 million (Full Tilt Poker)
Take one look at Gus Hansen’s results on Full Tilt Poker in 2011 and you have to wonder what he would have accomplished if Black Friday hadn’t cut his season short.
Hansen got off to the best start of his online poker career and had won $3.94 million by the time April 15 rolled around.
The Great Dane made life miserable for almost every opponent he played including Esvedra, Anton Ionel and Jani Vilmunen in the first three months of 2011.
It’s unclear exactly how much Hansen had tied up in the site when it went down but in interviews he mentioned he had a considerable amount of money stuck on the site.
Of course the flip side is that the Black Friday shutdown may have saved Hansen from losing it all, as he was known to go on multi-million downswings in the summer and fall.
2. Ilari “Ilari FIN” Sahamies: +$2.18 million (PokerStars)
Gus Hansen may have technically won the most in 2011 but Ilari Sahamies was arguably the better story.
Sahamies had such a bad year on Full Tilt Poker in 2010 – he lost a total of $2 million – that he decided to leave the site altogether in 2011.
This was before Black Friday even hit and railbirds were surprised Sahamies would give up on the much bigger games on FTP to play PokerStars.
It was a rough start for Sahamies and by mid-summer he was one of the biggest losers on the site, down more than $800k.
He would turn it all around in the fall however and after a multi-million dollar heater he overtook Rafi Amit as the biggest winner on PokerStars with $2.18 million.
The man to beat in 2012.
3. Rafi “refaelamit” Amit: +$2.1 million (PokerStars)
Rafi “refael” Amit came out of nowhere to become one of the biggest online winners in 2011.
Despite owning two WSOP bracelets and being a noted cash game killer, Amit was hardly on the online poker radar at the start of 2011.
The Israeli pro elevated his game to another level in the fall and dominated the 6-Max PLO games that included Phil “MrSweets28” Galfond, Rui “PepperoniF” Cao and Zypherin.
It’s anyone’s guess whether Amit will take another shot at the high stakes online games in 2012 or if he will skip them altogether.
4. Dan “jungleman12” Cates: +$1.9 million (Full Tilt Poker)
Just one year removed it’s easy to forget that Dan “jungleman12” Cates was the biggest winner in 2010 with an astounding $5.5 million in profit.
Although he started 2011 slow, Cates had already recovered and won $1.9 million before Black Friday locked him out of the games.
Since then Cates reputation has been somewhat tarnished by his involvement with Haseeb Qureshi in the Jose “Girah” Macedo cheating scandal.
Although Cates plays on PokerStars as W00ki3z he’s apparently unwilling to relocate to play online as the account has remained dormant since Black Friday.
5. NoPasaran: +$1.8 million (Full Tilt Poker)
Alexey “NoPasaran” Makarov was a force in the early stages of 2011.
The Russian played several epic sessions against noted high stakes grinder Evesdra to boost his overall profit to nearly $2 million.
NoPasaran also showed some tournament chops this year by winning FTOPS XX Event 28 for $81k.
It’s anyone’s guess how much money Alexey Makarov had stuck on Full Tilt when it went down but he, at least, had his PokerStars “LuckyGump” account to fall back on.
Unfortunately the LuckyGump account lost $500k mid-summer and then Makarov went on a huge downswing that saw him finish the year up only $90k on PokerStars.
Honorable mention: Viktor “Isildur1” Blom (PokerStars)
Despite being absent from PokerStars for nearly three months Viktor “Isildur1” Blom finished the year with $1.4 million in profit on the site. It was good enough to place him sixth on the most profitable players this year. A far cry from year’s past, Blom was able to win a substantial amount of money and avoid donating it all back.
Top 5 Biggest Online Losers
1. Tom “durrrr” Dwan: -$2.47 million (Full Tilt Poker)
Things went from bad to worse for Tom “durrrr” Dwan when he lost $2.47 million on Full Tilt and was then denied the chance to win it back when the site shut its doors.
Dwan simply couldn’t get anything going in the high stakes games on Full Tilt in the early stages of 2011.
He lost huge sessions to Dan “jungleman12” Cates, XWINK and Gus Hansen throughout the start of the year.
On the bright side, Dwan was rumored to a big winner in the huge live cash games that went down in Macau last spring. Some sites reported he won as much as $9 million.
Dwan’s old PokerStars account Hold_emNL has not been active since Black Friday so he’s either moved on to another account or he’s just avoided online poker altogether since the Department of Justice locked out U.S. players.
2. FishosaurusREX: -$1.39 million (Full Tilt Poker)
Word of advice to new poker players: Don’t put the word fish in your online handle.
It won’t necessarily make you a fish but you do end up looking pretty foolish if you do something like lose over $1 million in one year.
Despite a strong start to 2011, Eugene “FishosaurusREX” Yanayt had one of the worst months in the history of online poker when he blew through $2 million in February alone.
By March, FishosaurusREX had vacated the high stakes games completely and the account had become inactive.
The silver lining? There’s a good chance FishosaurusREX didn’t have any money stuck on Full Tilt by the time Black Friday rolled around.
3. kagome kagome: -$1.37 million (Full Tilt Poker)
For whatever reason players seem to perform poorly when they switch username’s on Full Tilt Poker.
It’s been called the Red Pro curse but in kagome kagome’s case, he was forced to switch from IHateJuice thanks to complaints from other players about his name.
The German Limit Hold’em specialist had always been swingy but in 2011 he pretty much just swung down.
kagome kagome never had a chance to win his money back as he was in the midst of a downswing when Black Friday hit. The player has yet to reveal himself as anyone on PokerStars.
4. cadillac1944: -$1.33 million (Full Tilt Poker)
Online player cadillac1944 followed up a disastrous 2010 campaign by losing more cash.
To his credit the Austrian showed absolutely no fear taking on players like Tom “durrrr” Dwan, Patrik Antonius, NoPasaran and Hac “trex313” Dang.
Unfortunately he did not fair well in many games this year and quickly went $1.33 million in the hole. His overall losses added up to -$3 million in less than 12 months on FTP.
By the time April rolled around, cadillac1944 had lost his appetite for self-destructio and disappeared into the night.
5. Esvedra: -$1.18 million (Full Tilt Poker)
Esvedra is yet another account that is rumored to belong to Canadian billionaire Guy Laliberte.
While this may, or may not be true, Esvedra certainly played like someone who had money to burn in 2011.
Esvedra was burned by Cole South, Tom “durrrr” Dwan, trex313 before finally being cut off by Full Tilt, like the rest of the world, in late June.
Highly unlikely we’ll ever hear from this account ever again.
Dishonorable mention: Zypherin (PokerStars)
Zypherin was the biggest loser on PokerStars this year as he lost a total of $1.05 million. The account treaded water for the early part of the year but then got destroyed by Ronny Kaiser and 1II|1II|1iI| in the fall of 2011.